Scattershot Budget Coverage from the LA Times

The Los Angeles Times has been all over the place on its coverage of the budget crisis in California. Consider this editorial from last Friday, which has already been discussed at Calitics.

Our politicians could avert the cash crisis by simply adopting a midyear budget. It would sting — with deep cuts and higher taxes — but it would sting less than the total meltdown we are about to experience.

But no, Democrats, Republicans and the governor are acting like brats on a playground. “They started it!” “Did not!” “Did so!” “We did everything we could.” No, folks, you didn’t.

Compare that position to an editorial “Come Back, GOP” from last August.

If there are $15 billion in program cuts that won’t simply transfer costs to next year’s budget or further into the future, let’s hear about them. If there aren’t, then Republican lawmakers must confront tax increases as a prudent step, just as they must acknowledge that much of the state’s current problem stems from the unwarranted reduction of the vehicle license fee that swept Schwarzenegger into office.

The editorial placed the blame for the budget problem where it belongs – on Republican obstructionism. It misses the structural component entirely, praising the two-thirds rule for preventing tax-happy Democrats from seizing control, while ignoring its enabling effect on the Republicans they chastise.

Unfortunately, in the past four months the Times’ editorial board seems to have lost sight of fundamental issue of Republican obstruction. Over the past year, Democrats have slowly whittled away at their plan. Having started this past summer with a restoration of 1990s income tax rates and the closure of certain corporate tax loop holes, they slowly descended into increasingly steep budget cuts and sales tax increases before eventually ending with accounting tricks and more debt. Legislative Republicans didn’t move at all.

That entire drama is repeating itself now, but with more dire consequences. The most recent Democratic plan, a dubiously legal game of three card monte played with various state fees and taxes, was vetoed by the Governor after Democrats refused to gut labor and environmental protection. The Times, of course, can’t seem to tell the difference between compromise and a stick-up.

That inconsistency is compounded by shoddy reporting. Yesterday, the Times ran this article on the Governor’s budget brinkmanship.

Efforts to bridge California’s budget abyss collapsed last week as talks hit a formidable roadblock — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s demand that long-standing environmental protections be stripped from 10 big highway projects.

The governor’s aides say his plan would give the financially strained state a $1.2-billion economic boost and create 22,000 jobs over the next three years. Environmentalists say the governor is backpedaling from the heavily publicized push to curb global warming that landed him on magazine covers delicately balancing a globe on a beefy finger.

Economic boost from where? Nowhere once in the article does it mention that infrastructure spending in the state has come to a standstill, ending jobs-producing projects that were already underway. Likewise, it completely elides the impending economic damage that will be caused as state programs grind to a standstill and state employees are handed worthless IOUs instead of paychecks.

The story isn’t that the Governor and environmental groups are going head-to-head over environmental regulations – that shouldn’t be surprising. What is news is that the Governor is using the budget crisis to extort Democrats into sacrificing the environment and workers in order to keep the bare minimum of state services functioning. And reporting like this allows the Governor to get away with it, by not putting it in its proper context.

Obviously, reporters don’t have the column inches to elaborate fully in every story. But this story isn’t about environmental policy at all, and suggesting that it is gives the Governor a free pass. If the LA Times wants a mid-year budget passed anytime soon, it needs to stop yelling at legislators and start doing its job. Instead of crazed ranting, it needs to call the Governor and Republican lawmakers what they are: extortionists and road blocks.

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 10:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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